Tag Archives: beauty

We are Family

Look after one another.

Marvin J. Ashton said, “If we could look into each other’s hearts and understand the unique challenges each of us faces, I think we would treat each other much more gently, with more love, patience, tolerance, and care.”

Cape Town is a very adventurous and outdoor-oriented city, so my housemates and I would often go on hikes, exploring the endless, breathtaking beauty surrounding us. On our hikes and adventures we would quite literally and physically have to look out for one another. This was made easier and came more naturally as we grew to know each other better. We knew which of us were afraid of heights, which of us got cranky the earliest, which of us were more prone to wandering, which of us were athletic, which of us were determined, which of us were opinionated, which of us were stubborn. We knew each other, so we were able to comprehensively look after one another.

When I first moved to Cape Town to study abroad, I was placed in a house full of people who were complete strangers to me; strangers with profoundly different experiences, wholly different upbringings, ways of life, ideas, opinions, passions, and dreams. I had not known them. I was unaware of what shaped them to be the people they are, the people that would be living with me, sharing a small space with me, for the next five months of my life. However, it did not take long before these people became my family, people I would deeply care for, people I would look out for. Soon enough, these were the people that I stood on the curb outside our house and cried with as we said, not our “goodbyes”, but our “see you laters”. We were the closest thing to a family that each of us had while being thousands of miles away from our actual families. We fought, we made up, we laughed, and cried together. We threatened to beat up anyone that hurt someone in our little family. We explored together. We experienced homesickness together and we helped each other adapt to an entirely different culture and an altogether different way of life. We helped each other process our emotions and experiences, and we leaned on one another for support. We opened up to one another, vulnerably exposed our hearts and souls to one another, and we trusted one another. As we continued to learn more about one another, we grew to selflessly and completely love one another. Throughout those five months, a group of complete strangers became a family.

I still would do anything for any one of these people. But, I know that my family continues to expand. You see, in every season of our lives, we open ourselves to receiving more family. The people placed in our lives throughout the various bends, curves, ebbs, and flows are intentional. We are surrounded with distinct people for a reason, and if we allow ourselves to be open to these people, we continue to build our families. As we continue to receive new family members, new friends, new loved ones, our hearts grow more protective, more compassionate. We learn, then, that only when we truly open ourselves to knowing the people in our lives better, to learning their stories, inquiring of their pasts, listening to their desires and dreams, we equip ourselves to love them better. We see that the more we understand one another, the more territory we are able to explore of each other’s pasts, passions, desires, hopes and dreams, the more deeply and profoundly we are able to care for one another.

As the end of my study abroad experience loomed nearer, I began to associate with the phrase, “Home is where the heart is.” More than a mere typography scribbled on a greeting card or a sentiment exposed through a nostalgic social media post, this phrase embodied everything I was feeling up to my departure. As I tried to make sense of my emotions, of leaving a place I had grown to love and had learned to call home, I came to realize that I was beginning to have many different homes. In all these homes, I had experiences that had shaped my life, I had grown in ways that I never expected, and I had learned to form families with the people around me. I began to realize that I might have different places that I would call home. I accepted the fact that my heart may forever be pulled in different directions. And, in all these different places that my heart would be drawn to, I would have families, people that I grew to trust and learned to adore. So, my home would not just be found in the places that my heart grew to love, but with the people that my heart related to; with various people that made up many different families I grew to adore.

We have the endless opportunity to continue to grow our families, as long as we regularly open our hearts to one another and intentionally invest in learning one another’s stories. Our hearts can grow to love and adorn many different homes that house many different families in every season of life. As we come and go, wander and explore, may we continue to open our hearts to those around us. May we open our eyes to the beauty we see in one another. May we bravely, unapologetically, and vulnerably form many different families in many different places that we call home. And may we continue to learn from our families, grow with our families, and better protect, advocate for, sacrifice for, and selflessly love each family that we form.

Fear Not . . .

Try new things.

Former Senator Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” The truth is, no one looks forward to failing. We do not like to fail. We avoid it. We do everything in our power not to succumb to it. And when we do fail, we try to quickly fix it, cover it up, mask it. We try to make it look like, on the contrary, we had been planning the alternative all along. “I meant for that to happen,” “I actually wanted that to happen,” we convince ourselves.

But often, the fear of failure stands in the way of new and undiscovered adventure. Our fear sometimes prevents us from trying new things. If you would have asked me even three years ago if I would ever try bungee jumping, I would have given you an instinctive and confident “no”. I would have told you that I would try almost anything else before I would ever try bungee jumping. Something about flinging myself off a cliff with an all too untrustworthy rope attached to me as my only safety measure did not seem like my ideal sense of adventure. But, I soon found that my fear would be challenged. In 2013, I studied abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. Not long into settling halfway across the world, I found out that South Africa housed the tallest bungee bridge in the world- Bloukrans Bridge which stands at 216 meters, or 709 feet above the Bloukrans River. While this attraction intrigued most of my friends, the thought of willingly falling nearly 700 feet terrified me. However, a few weeks later, much to my surprise, I found myself paying a questionably inexpensive $75 registration fee for my otherwise invaluable life. Today, the action of jumping off that bridge is almost as vivid as it was in the mere moments that had followed it, and the memory of that experience rings as one of the best experiences of my life.

That day, my fear of bungee jumping almost cost me one of the best experiences of my life. It also almost cost me an invaluable lesson- that trying new things and, in doing so, discovering a newfound strength prepares us to offer all that we are to the world around us. The funny thing about fear is that it convinces us that we are not all we are created to be. It tells us not to go for that job, not to apply to that school, not to pursue that dream. It whispers to us that we are not strong enough, smart enough, talented enough, determined enough. Its deception is powerful and it does not spare a soul. But, when you know your worth and the inherent power in the uniqueness of who you are, you begin to question everything that fear is convincing you of and everything it is holding you back from. You begin to wonder, “Why can’t I apply for that grad school?”, “What is stopping me from going for that job?”, “Why aren’t I strong enough, brave enough, talented enough, good enough?” And, suddenly, when you realize that fear does not have a place in your life, the idea of failure holds no weight. You stop asking yourself, “What if I fail?” And instead challenge yourself, “But, what if I succeed?”

While I am not encouraging everyone jump off a bridge, and while my fear of jumping off that bridge would have understandably crushed an otherwise brief sense of intrigue, that jump signaled an event that would remind me of the power within me for years to come. Overcoming my fear of bungee jumping empowered me to try something I would have never imagined doing nor ever thought I was capable of trying. You see, when we free ourselves of the hold fear has on our lives, we not only discover an inherent power within us, but we discover new destinations that power will lead us to and new uncoverings that power will unearth. The truth is, we have all overcome fear, and we have lived to humbly tell incredible, incomparable, and inconceivable stories because of it. We also have, at times, allowed fear to hold us back. While we undoubtedly learn from missed opportunities, and while we experience grace in the event that fear temporarily scores a win, we learn more about our own power and capability when we experience a world of opportunities from defeating fear. In those times and circumstances that we triumph over fear, we open a whole new world of opportunities that may have otherwise remained concealed. And when we open a new world of inexperience, informality, and thrill, not only do we grow in such an incomparable way, but we offer that growth to the world around us.

So, may you free yourself to take a daring dive off whatever bridge stands in your way. May you experience the thrill and freedom in not only facing your fears, but triumphing over those fears. May you continue to take risks- apply to that grad school halfway across the world, go for that job, sacrifice familiarity, embrace the unexplained and unpredicted. Knowing the power within you and the uniqueness you have to offer the world, may you boldly venture out into the unknown, all the while, unafraid of failure. And, may you dare to fail, to fail again, and to get back up so that you can continue to try new things, unearth new discoveries, and offer those discoveries to the world.

Redefining a Millennial “Merci”

Say please and thank you.

We have all been taught the importance of having good manners. “Be polite,” “Get your elbows off the table,” “Look someone in the eye when they are talking to you,” “Say please and thank you,” are all phrases that our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and teachers have instructed us to abide by. My mom still adamantly reminds me of the importance of writing thank you notes. “It’s just courteous, and it shows good manners,” “I’ve raised you better than this,” “Your rudeness is a reflection on me,” she has gently reminded or reprimanded me from time to time. While I have every intention of making this a habit, I still have thank you cards addressed and ready to mail from when I graduated college this past May. I found out, though, that I was not alone. One of my best friends shared her mom’s insight on the matter, which went something like, “You sure don’t have a problem accepting presents, so you shouldn’t have a problem saying thank you.” After we gave it a good laugh, the truth began to sink in. While I felt better learning that I was not alone, I could not help but think that my group text between two of my best friends was not the only incident where poor manners were lightheartedly acknowledged among a Millennial crowd. Have we forgotten the importance of saying “please” or “thank you”? Have manners been lost in translation throughout the generations? Have we lost the grace of politeness?

You see, the importance in saying “please and thank you” does not lie in the string of letters that make up the sentiment as much as it does in the action of respecting those around us. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word polite as “respectful and considerate of other people.” Likely, it defines respect as “due regard for the feelings or rights of others.” Our proper manners, then, are important not for the light that it casts on our own character, but for the way that it illuminates others. We say “please and thank you,” we express our gratitude, we hold open doors, we say “excuse me” and “bless you” not so that we look like good people in return, but in order that our actions protect, advance, and strengthen the dignity, humanity, and rights of others. Our view of humanity and equality, and the way in which we love others act as the foundation for our politeness. In return, our manners, remind us of our humanity. The way that we treat others is reflective of the way that we view others. We may, then, measure the goodness of our manners in relation to how highly we esteem the goodness of others. When we respect the equality of others, despite whatever difference in race, ethnicity, religion, gender, or anything else, we will begin to elevate the respect in which we adorn all those around us.

We may have lost the imminence in timely expressing our thanks and gratitude or in exuding good manners. We may have found social etiquette, morals, or ethics to be archaic. But, our respect for one another, our respect for equality, should be timeless. The way that we view and perceive of one another, on the basis of our shared humanity, should be the driving force of our manners. Once we undergo this paradigm shift, that our manners are not so much a reflection of our own goodness as they are of the goodness of others, we will revert to a mindset that seeks the best for others. Speaking for our generation, we must be the Millennials that begin to shift the focus on the era of intention: intentional kindness, intentional goodness, intentional compassion, intentional gratitude, intentional graciousness, intentional respect. We must act out of respect and love for one another in order that we begin to redefine the Millennial “merci.”

As we grow from one another and continually develop our manners, may we assume, once again, the art of respect. Man or woman, young or old, may we act out of respect for others in order to illuminate and reinforce their fullest potential and the fullness of their rights, talents, and passions. With a change in perspective, with a focus on the goodness of others rather than the goodness of ourselves, may we redeem our “please and thank you’s.” May we rescue chivalry, unearth decency, preserve kindness, and don politeness. And with this redemption of politeness and respect, may we continue to redefine the relationships in our lives and spread love intentionally, wherever we may go.

Be All that You can Be, and Bloom

Do your best.

A common quote from Zen Shin Talks says, “A flower does not think of competing to the flower next to it. It just blooms.” We have grown up heeding advice to do our best, reinforcing others and ourselves of an undeniably resilient spirit within us. But, at one point or another, we have all had the fear that our best may not be enough. So, we begin to feel defeated or discouraged. We begin to believe that we are inadequate, worthless, hopeless. But, we must begin to tell ourselves that our best is our best, even if it does not produce the results that we had hoped for.

You see, our best is not contingent upon our expectations. I have learned this most recently since graduating college. As graduation loomed nearer and nearer, I had a perfect picture of what my life would be post-college- I would hold a full time job with benefits and with the promise of advancing further in my career, I would move into my own place with a few friends, I would become totally, financially and otherwise, self-sufficient. But, my best efforts yielded a much different reality. In this transitional period, I found myself in an LSAT prep course, committing to taking the next step towards obtaining a law degree. However, throughout the course, I felt my heart pulling in another direction- a passion I had altogether known, but somewhat overlooked. I cannot explain one specific event or life-altering moment when I decided that I wanted to pursue writing instead; rather, it was a more gradual and persistent pull at my heart. When I consciously decided to let go of my expectations of what my post-grad life would hold, and instead give this writing gig a go, doors began to unexpectedly open. Today, I can wholeheartedly and gratefully look back on the past seven months and notice an unparalleled amount of opportunities that have both validated, strengthened, and have altogether made my passion for writing more worthwhile. I have learned that while doing my best has not always resulted in the dreams and desires that I had cultivated, it has contributed to every experience, opportunity, and event that has shaped me into the woman I am today. Where I once compared myself to the numerous Facebook status updates and Instagram posts that depicted my peers’ seemingly perfect and successful lives, I now am able to look upon my own experiences with a grateful and humble heart- realizing that my own journey does not find its worth in comparison to that of another.

The truth is, performing our best may yield entirely different results than what we had hoped for or planned. We may not find ourselves in that dream job we had hoped of obtaining, we may not find ourselves with that family we longed of having or that marriage we had desired with all our hearts. We may not be in that dream house we told ourselves we would have by the age of thirty-five. We may not be successful in the way we imagined, self-sufficient in the way we planned, or thriving in the way we pictured we would be. But, just because the vision of our lives does not match the circumstances of our lives does not mean that our best has amounted to failure or that we ourselves are worthless. Rather, the unexpected course that our lives have taken yield a certain freedom where we can explore the desires of our hearts without the pressures we have placed on ourselves. By the grace that the events of our lives became unaligned with our own expectations, we become more open to the alternative. When we become more open to these unexpected realities, we allow ourselves to let go of the grip on our own vision of what our life ought to be, and we live freely in what our lives presently are. Slowly and gradually, we begin to move out of our own way.

What happens also when we become free to perform our best aside from our own expectations is that we find that our best is not dependent on the success of others. When we become free to release our best efforts from the confine of our own expectations, we become even more free to release our best efforts from their comparison to the best efforts of others. It is easy to fall into a cycle of comparing our drive, ambition, pursuits, or attempts to those of our friends, family, peers, classmates, Facebook friends, and Instagram followers. But, when we allow ourselves to fail and to fall short of our own expectations, only to begin to revel in all the opportunity that surrounds our shortcomings, we will begin to grow more confident in who we are despite what we may see through whatever status updates and carefully selected snapshots of our friends’ lives. When we free ourselves from our own expectations and from comparing our lives to those of our friends and peers, we may even begin to purely and truthfully celebrate the achievements and accomplishments that we see on social media. Instead of feeling discouraged, jealous, insecure, and unworthy whenever a baby announcement, marriage proposal, job offer, grad school acceptance, or life achievement floods our newsfeed, we may begin to feel genuinely happy and selflessly pleased for our peers. We are able to free ourselves to be happy for peers because we come to know that our own success, our own journey, and our own growth, are not made worthy based in comparison to the achievements of those around us.

So, take a deep breath, let go of whatever unattained object or achievement is telling you that you are a failure, a disappointment. Be thankful for these unexpected circumstances, for they may be directing you to otherwise unforeseen, overlooked, or concealed opportunities. Go forth and bloom, try and fail, get back up and discover the course of where this beautifully unpredictable life is leading you. Be confident that your worth is not defined by your expectations, nor is it judged in comparison to the achievements of all those around you. Rather, your worth is found in the midst of all your achievements and failures, alike, that empower you to be all that you can be, in the very best way.

Be Kind Anyway

Use kind words.

“Words are singularly the most powerful force available to humanity. We can choose to use this force constructively with words of encouragement, or destructively using words of despair. Words have energy and power with the ability to help, to heal, to hinder, to hurt, to harm, to humiliate and to humble.”- Yehuda Berg

Growing up, we have been warned of the power of our words. We have learned through the experience of our own, or of others, that the power of our words can pierce like a double-edged sword. “Think before you speak,” “Be quick to listen and slow to speak,” “Count to ten,” are uttered commands cautioning us against a flippant tongue and a careless mouth. Likely, “That’s not what I meant,” “You misunderstood me,” “I spoke too soon,” are all attempted apologies we mutter when we realize the weight of our words a little too late. You see, at certain points in our lives, we have all been on both the giving and receiving end of painful words. We have experienced the instantaneous guilt of our words causing harm to someone else and we have also experienced the shame and discouragement of words that have pierced our own souls. We have been put in time-outs, forced to say our “sorries”, reprimanded and scolded when our words evidently pained someone else. On the other end, when we have been wronged by words, we have retreated to our safe-haven, justified our grudges, given off the silent treatment, launched a mute warfare; we have mastered the art of building up walls and closing our hearts when we feel like we have been wronged or when we have experienced pain. But, on both these ends, as the giver and the receiver, we are constantly learning the power of our words.

But, as we grow older, the consequences of our words grow more impactful. The power of our kindness, then, grows more powerful. Often, we exude kindness where we think it is deserved. We judge our circumstances, we judge our spirits, we judge people, and we evaluate whether or not kindness is deserved. I have been learning this in my own life recently. I have noticed myself examining my circumstances and attitudes, justifying myself based on my judgement of what other people deserve. I have found that my actions and attitude have been influenced by what I believe I deserve in return. When I have felt cheated at work, when I have felt discouraged, when I believe I have been treated unfairly, or when I have not received what I believe I deserve, I have withheld kindness. While it has not been intentional, it is profound. I have been humbled in learning that my acts or attitude in giving kindness to others should not be dependent on what I think they deserve or even what I think I deserve. You see, when we release kindness from the confines we keep it in, we allow its work to influence people, to illuminate circumstances, and to touch the world beyond what we could ever imagine. When we let go of our control, of the power we believe we should have in judging the circumstances and people in our lives, we will experience a freedom in giving kindness that does not grow dependent on what we think we deserve. When we let go of our perception of what we think we deserve, we will learn that our kindness is not reflective of how fairly we are treated. When we allow freedom to replace our perception of rightness, we will experience the true nature of kindness.

We learn, then, that using kind words becomes more important now, than it was when we were growing up, playing with our schoolmates on the playground. We realize the positive weight in exuding kindness in more profound ways than our grade school days. We more deeply sense the humbling nature of being kind even when it is not deserved or warranted than when we did growing up in our homes. When we grow out of grade school, we realize that there are no rules. We no longer find teachers intervening in arguments, righting wrongs and warranting apologies. We more clearly see unfairness played out in the workplace, in educational institutions, in our own government, in life in general. But today, more than ever, we find that the powerful nature of our kindness has the capacity to soften our own hearts, to rid our souls of bitterness, and to travel to places and people beyond what we could ever conceive. When we experience the humbling force of kindness and the freedom that it awards us, we may discover that kindness does not become something we reward to people when we see fit, nor does it become a reaction in good judgement, but it becomes something that we exude because it is deserved in and of itself.

Mother Teresa once said, “People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self centered; forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway . . . . In the final analysis, it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway.” Our kindness has a bigger purpose that surpasses any understanding of what we think we deserve. So, live graciously anyway. Despite how you have been wronged or the ways in which you have been hurt or mistreated, be kind anyway. For the humbling freedom you experience in kindness will defeat what you think you deserve in any way.

A Drop can Make a Difference

Today is World Water Day, a day first designated by the United Nations on March 22, 1993. After a United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in 1992, participants and advocates recommended an annual international observance for water. Each year, UN-Water highlights and advocates against a current or future challenge for water and sanitation around the world. This year, with the theme “water and jobs UN-Water is advocating for the 1.5 billion people, nearly half of the world’s workers, that work in water-related sectors but still “are often not recognized or protected by basic labour rights.” By advocating for these people and highlighting this issue, UN-Water focuses “on how enough quantity and quality of water can change workers’ lives and livelihoods – and even transform societies and economies.”

We rarely think about our dependence on water. We use and consume water at our leisure. We can pull a bath almost instantaneously, creating a therapeutic oasis for ourselves after a long day at work. We can run to the kitchen to fill up a glass of clean, uncontaminated, filtered drinking water, without even giving it another thought. We can leave the faucet in the bathroom running while we quickly do something else. We can throw out a glass of water that has been sitting on our desk for days, or a bottle of water that we left sitting in our car for a little too long. But, on World Water Day, we might be a little more mindful of the ways that we consume and depend on water. If only for a day, we might turn off our faucets while we brush our teeth. We might drink that day-old water that has been sitting on our nightstand. We might appreciate where our water comes from and how it is so easily accessible to us. While we should not allow our mindfulness of how we consume and use water to flow from a sentiment of guilt, we should always encourage ourselves and one another to use our influence, uniqueness, and passion to create worthwhile and impactful habits. When we collectively use our influence and our mindfulness, we may be able to change lives around the world. When we are mindful, we begin to notice that the appreciation of water is made worthwhile in any action, big or small. We, then, will be able to see and believe in the product of change even as we turn off a faucet when we are not using it or when we buy a bottle of water that directly contributes to transforming societies around the world. When we use our own uniqueness to contribute to a worldwide community dedicated to ending the global water crisis, we will come to know that every drop makes a difference.

But, on World Water Day, we might also challenge ourselves to appreciate water in other, unconventional ways. One organization that actively, passionately, and transformatively works with communities in order to eradicate the global water crisis is Generosity.org. Since is start, Generosity.org has funded over 727 water projects, providing roughly 413,000 people with clean drinking water. But, these water projects have been built collectively by people who have believed that their drop can make a difference in the world. Where 663 million people around the world do not have access to clean drinking water, Generosity.org is working to empower and transform communities. Going further than merely installing water projects in various communities, Generosity.org equips and teaches the people of these communities to manage and maintain the water projects. With each drop, these projects are changing lives. But, with each project, there are movers and shakers that unite to offer their talents, passion, and resources in order to build them from the ground up. This team of global advocates, of world changers, starts with you. When you realize that your drop can make a difference, you begin to take action to empower people around the world. One of these ways is by donating to a water project, a family, or even one person in order to provide them with clean drinking water. Another way is to partner with the talents and passions of your friends and family through fundraising. Generosity.org makes this fundraising option tangible and wholly influential through their Us for Us campaign which invites individual creativity and infectious passion that inspires transformation throughout the world. An easy and tangible way that you can take action to empower people and communities around the world is simply by purchasing a water bottle. Generosity Beverages and Generosity Water, a for-profit business selling the highest quality alkaline bottled water with a perfect pH balance of 10.0, has funded three wells since its establishment this past August. But, more than a business that provides the best quality water, each water bottle sold enhances the quality of life and sustains the wellbeing of communities around the world. With every purchase of a Generosity Water bottle, two people are provided with clean drinking water for a month. See, these collective drops, these dynamic ripples, are making a powerful, transparent, and effective difference in the world.

So, how will you celebrate World Water Day? How will see that your drop makes a difference? Maybe start by committing to appreciating water a little more each day- finishing that entire bottle of water, turning off the faucet, donating to a water project, purchasing a bottle that directly impacts a community, taking a swim in the ocean, exploring the lengths to where a river’s flow ends, marveling at the powerful and captivating beauty of a waterfall. To see your drop make a difference, you can commit to celebrating water every day by joining with Generosity.org’s 365 campaign- by giving $1 a day for the next 365 days, you can celebrate the impact access to clean water has every day. In any way that you appreciate the essentiality of water, know that your influence, passion, ambition, creativity, and strength shape your drop to make a profound difference in the world. More than that, know that your drop, in unison with all other drops, sends out a ripple effect to positively transform lives around the world.